Which is London’s deepest tube station?

This is not a spoiler. Clapham Common is not that deep. You will have to read this to find out. Image: Diliff

Not all tube stations are born equal. 

Some, like Mill Hill East, are reached by soaring viaducts, carrying the tracks a reasonable 60ft above ground level: Dollis Brook Viaduct, which leads to the station, is the highest point on the London Underground. Others, like Westminster, harbour vast cavernous halls with escalators plunging ever further into the depths of London.

Given that it’s called the London Underground, the startling thing is that it’s not actually underground all that much. Only 40 per cent of is actually below ground, and only two lines – the Victoria and Waterloo & City – are entirely below ground.

Others, such as the Metropolitan and the District, only spend a relatively short proportion of their lifespan underground, with vast expanses stretching out into the west, north-west, and east of suburbia.

So, it begs the question. On the world’s oldest underground railway system, which station is the most… underground?

As ever on CityMetric, this very quickly denigrates into an argument about the terms of the question – so it makes sense to run through all the different possible answers.

Firstly, the answer nobody sensible would think to want: how far above sea level the entrance to the station is.

West Ham, which is not near Hampstead. Image: Richard Rogerson. 

By that measure, West Ham is the ‘deepest’, with the station entrance sitting just one metre above sea level (come friendly global warming, and raise sea levels on West Ham). This is something of a theme on the Jubilee Line Extension, as Bermondsey, North Greenwich and Canning Town all follow behind at two metres above level: no surprise, perhaps, given that trains struggle with steep gradients.

But onto more important things. If you take the average depth below sea level of all the platforms in each tube station – an important clarification – London Bridge comes out on top (bottom). Its platforms are, on average, 22 metres below sea level.

Highly candid shot of London Bridge's platforms. Image: Zverzia. 

On average, Southwark follows at 21 metres, Elephant & Castle at 18 metres, followed by Pimlico at 16 metres below sea level on average.

But seeing as some stations have very shallow platforms on lines like the District and Circle, alongside very deep platforms on lines like the Central – think of the annoyance of changing at Notting Hill Gate or King’s Cross St Pancras – the average depth in one station probably isn’t all that useful.

Which brings us to the deepest single platform.

The eastbound and westbound platforms of the Jubilee line at London Bridge make a good showing, with both coming in at 23.2m below sea level.

Southwark, just next door, makes an effort, but can’t really compete at 20.5m below sea level on its two Jubilee line platforms.

The majesty of Westminster. Image: Voyager.

Common knowledge, and Google search, has it that Westminster has the tube’s deepest platform – but according to TfL’s own figures that’s not the case.

While the westbound Jubilee Line platform at Westminster is very deep – at 25.4m below sea level – it’s beaten to the top (bottom) spot by Waterloo next door.


Both the eastbound at westbound Jubilee platforms at Waterloo are 26m below sea level – again, disclaimer, as per TfL’s own official figures – making them the deepest tube platforms on the network. If you want to nerd out at the whole data set, you can access it here.

But again, with conjecture being the order of the day – who really cares how far below the sea the tube is?

We’re Londoners, not softies of the South Coast. We don’t care about the sea. We haven’t seen the sea for years.

What we really want to know is how far below ground level the tube is – a question that renders a completely different result.

A historic shot of the deepest tube station. Image: Ben Brooksbank 

And with no ado about something, the answer there is Hampstead.

Because the northern line station there sits on the picturesque but thigh-aching Hampstead Hill, the tube platforms may not be that far below sea level but they are an awful long way below the ground.

The southbound platform is about 0.8m deeper than the northbound platform, according to TfL figures, but they’re both about 58.5m below ground level.

So there you have it. The more you know.

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.